Carbon pricing and regional disparity

by Milan on October 4, 2010

in Climate change, Coal mining, Economics, Ethics

One reason why climate change legislation is so hard to pass is because of the large discrepancies between regions, in terms of dependence on different sources of energy and – by extension – the size of effect carbon pricing would have.

A recent article on The New Yorker discusses the failure of the Obama administration to pass climate change legislation so far, and points out the awareness of those in the U.S. Senate to this regional issue:

When [Senator Lieberman] went to lobby Evan Bayh, of Indiana, Bayh held up a map of the United States showing, in varying shades of red, the percentage of electricity that each state derived from burning coal, the main source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. The more coal used, the redder the state and the more it would be affected by a cap on carbon. The Northeast, the West Coast, and the upper Northwest of the country were pale. But the broad middle of the country—Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois—was crimson. (Indiana, for example, derives ninety-four per cent of its electricity from coal). “Every time Senator Lieberman would open his mouth, Bayh would show him the map,” a Lieberman aide said.

The same is probably true in many other developed democracies. In Canada, some provinces depend on fossil fuels for a substantial portion of their electricity generation, while others do not. Similarly, some have a lot of jobs and revenues that depend on the oil and gas industry, while others do not.

The fact that some places have been emitting harmful emissions in the past does not give them a right to continue doing so, now that we know about the harms and risks that such burning imposes on other people. That said, when it comes to developing policies and regulations that can actually get through the political system, awareness of regional disparities needs to be maintained and deals will ultimately need to be struck. While the fairest thing would be for oil, gas, and coal producing places to say: “We profited from the fuels in the past because we were ignorant about the harms they cause. Now we know better, so we will stop voluntarily” it is deeply unrealistic to expect them to do so. Rather, they will need to be bought off to some extent, and constrained by the force of the moral argument to some additional extent.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm

“In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. “The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make.”

A third explanation pinpointed how Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman approached the issue. “The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level,” Gore said. “And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change.””

Milan October 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

Sometimes, coal states have greener resources as well: West Virginia Is Geothermically Active.

More from Google.org

. October 5, 2010 at 2:55 pm

“The Senate is basically an oligarchic institution, so it’s no huge surprise that many senators gave more weight to the interests of fossil-fuel industries than they did to the public interest in mitigating climate change and developing clean energy. Oil and gas groups outspent green groups 7 to 1 — and that doesn’t count Big Coal money. Exxon alone outspent all green groups together.

Still, even for a cynic like me, it’s striking just how little moral weight climate change carries in the Senate. As in, none. There’s absolutely no sense of urgency, no sense that there’s anything to risk by being crass and cavalier about it. Senators who claim to accept the basic scientific facts are dubbed “moderate” even as they go on to treat climate policy with all the seriousness of an earmark haggle.

I can’t count how many times in the last few days I’ve heard people say, “the bill never had a chance in the Senate.” But that lets the people involved off the hook too easily. And they are people — human beings, with agency, making decisions. They could treat governing with a degree of moral seriousness, but they choose not to. They deserve to be called out and shamed for it, not treated like some immutable feature of the landscape. It’s hard to see how we ever get to reasonable national energy policy if the bottleneck for all domestic legislation continues to devolve into equal parts oligarchy and ignorance.”

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